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Mayo council ‘to get Shell windfall’

The Sunday Times (UK): Mayo council ‘to get Shell windfall’

“Supporters of the Rossport Five — the local landowners who have spent the past month in jail — want Shell to move its operations offshore, but it has emerged that the council, which granted planning permission for an inland terminal, has a strong vested interest in keeping Shell on land.”: “The council will be paid €2m in rates… for downfall pipes, some of which will run through land owned by the Rossport Five.”: “…Mayo county secretary, confirmed last week that conditions laid down… in Shell’s planning permission will result in total payments to the council of about €6.5m from the firm.”

Sunday 31 July 2005

Aine Ryan

MAYO county council is in line for a substantial financial windfall if Shell processes its Corrib gas find on land.

Supporters of the Rossport Five — the local landowners who have spent the past month in jail — want Shell to move its operations offshore, but it has emerged that the council, which granted planning permission for an inland terminal, has a strong vested interest in keeping Shell on land.

The council will be paid €2m in rates for the terminal building at Bellanaboy, and for downfall pipes, some of which will run through land owned by the Rossport Five.

John Condon, the Mayo county secretary, confirmed last week that conditions laid down by An Bord Pleanala in Shell’s planning permission will result in total payments to the council of about €6.5m from the firm. Much of this will be spent on infrastructural improvements, including roads, upgrading the water supply and improving the local fire brigade. There is even a €64,000 grant to install an artwork.

“Of course, any increased revenue is always welcomed by a local authority,” said Condon. “After all, it also benefits the county.

“After An Bord Pleanala made its ruling regarding the development of the land terminal, the council entered into a legal agreement with Shell regarding the conditions, which included a number of payments. Some are phased as the works proceed.”

Campaigners say the financial benefit to the council, whose annual budget is about €110m, means its decision-making is being unduly influenced by the prospect of big corporations coming into the county.

Maura Harrington, a Shell to Sea spokeswoman, said the infrastructural works will primarily benefit Shell. “The upgrading of the water system simply means bringing a supply to the proposed land terminal,” she said. “If there are any benefits for the local community, they are by default.”

The council has also benefited from the removing of 500,000 tons of peat from the gas terminal site. For every cubic metre of waste peat removed, the local authority is paid €1. This means revenue of at least €450,000.

Shell confirmed that, to date, it has paid the council €3.9m for road and water improvements. There is an outstanding €800,000 to be paid for road improvements and €400,000 for community projects, comprising the revenue earned from the peat removal.

Tim Quinn, a local councillor, said he had not been aware of the revenue from rates the council stands to gain. Quinn is seeking legal advice after a motion he proposed at the council, demanding that Shell move onshore, was overturned by Henry Kenny, the council chairman, on a technicality.

Quinn says his motion had been unanimously accepted by other councillors at a meeting on July 18, before Kenny, a brother of the Fine Gael leader, overturned it. Had it passed, the motion could have resulted in Shell taking legal action against the council.

Kenny said the motion was not valid on technical grounds, due to the absence of the word “resolved”. It is believed that a council executive pointed out the omission to the chairman.

A motion proposed by Kenny, calling on Bertie Ahern to explore all options to secure the release of the Rossport Five and to guarantee the safety of Shell’s pipeline, was passed instead. Kenny said: “After a long debate, when neither one side nor the other could agree on its wordings, I ruled that my motion, which, I believe was inclusive of Quinn’s, be accepted. It was.”

The Fine Gael leader’s brother said the inclusion of the words “explore all options” in his motion effectively means that the council can ask Shell about the possibility of an offshore terminal.

Kenny admitted that, as council chairman, he was aware of the financial ramifications if the council challenged Shell about the proposed land terminal, since it granted planning permission in the first place.

Another Fine Gael councillor, Gerry Coyle, said that the council had no alternative but to re-word Quinn’s motion. “I’m absolutely convinced that if it was accepted, the council was leaving itself liable to be sued by Shell for the entire costs of the project — about €260m,” he said.

After huge protests in the late 1980s, Mayo county council imposed a ban on mining around Croagh Patrick on religious grounds. Two companies, which had been granted planning permission, sued the council but lost on a technicality. The council’s legal costs were more than €100,000.

“Mayo county council can’t afford to go down that road again,” said Coyle.

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